DETECTIVE COMICS #519

(OCTOBER 1982)

BATMAN TAKES TO THE SKY
KUPPERBERG & CONWAY DIP TO THE PAST
(Part Two)

"...Like a Dreadnought in the Sky!"
(17 pages)

Part 2 of 2 (story continues from Batman #352)

Cover pencils - Jim Aparo
Cover inks -
Jim Aparo
Cover colouring - Anthony Tollin

Story - Paul Kupperberg (plot by Gerry Conway)
Art - Don Newton
Inks - John Calnan
Colours - Adrienne Roy
Lettering - Ben Oda
Editor - Len Wein

Second feature - Batgirl ("... When Velvet Paws Caress the Ground!", 7 pages)
Letters page - "The Batcave" (1 page)

 

PLOT SUMMARY

Following the most unusual highjackings of a submarine and a naval ship by Colonel Blimp (Batman #352) who uses a Zeppelin equipped with an ultrastrong magnetic force field to virtually pull the vessels out of the water and transport them to an unknown location, the Darknight Detective is in Washington DC.

 
Realising that these are no ordinary thefts Batman has tried to gain more insight and possibly clues from the Navy Department, and the information that that a ransom demand for the two ships is imminent proves his point.

Suddenly, Blimp's dirigible appears in the night sky above the capital, and the Colonel makes himself heard over a loudspeaker system and claims responsibility for the highjacking of the two vessels.

Batman seizes the opportunity to once again grapple onto and then pull himself up into the Zeppelin. Searching the dirigible whilst Blimp declares his demand to be 10 Mio Dollars, the Darknight Detective discovers that the voice is being radio transmitted, that the craft is unmanned - and that it carries a high explosive bomb set to go off any moment...

Whilst Colonel Blimp ends his speech by threatening that unless his demands are met both the crews and the two ships will never return, Batman scrambles for an escape route of what has now become a deadly trap. Managing to jump from the dirigible and take a dive into the Potomac river, the Darknight Detective resurfaces just in time to witness the Zeppelin being toppled by an enormous explosion and falling from the sky in a cluster of burning debris.

 
 
Later, back in Gotham, Batman and Robin try to pinpoint possible locations where Blimp may be hiding the two stolen vessels. Soon, the Dynamic Duo take off by Batplane and Batmobile.
 
  Elsewhere, in a New Jersey forest, stands an old hangar from the days - long gone now - when Zeppelin crafts were a common means of air travel. This particular hangar, however, is not what it seems to be: slightly derelict on the outside, the inside houses a massively upgraded infrastructure put in place by Colonel Blimp.

This, however, has not escaped the Dynamic Duo who lie hidden and in waiting until Blimp rigs up his dirigible and sets course for the location where the two ships are kept: the Arctic - trailed by Robin in the Batplane.

 
Upon landing close to the the subamrine and the naval ship, Robin is greeted by the crew members - unguarded, as the hostile environment does away with the necessity for any further measure of restraint.

Robin organizes the two crews into battle formation and has the guns made ready. When Blimp's henchmen arrive to take the two ships out in order for the money exchange, they are taken completely by surprise as the men from the naval vessels ambush them and quickly overwhelm them.

Robin takes to the Zeppelin which brought Blimp's men here and directs the craft back to base. When Blimp radioes him in order to get an update on the progress with transporting the two ships, Robin lets the Colonel know that he is no longer in control of this mission.

This, in turn, is the cue for Batman who breaks out of the shadows of the New Jersey hangar base and takes care of Blimp's henchmen. The Colonel himself, however, points a gun at the Darknight Detective and lets Batman know the motives for his actions - which is an urge to inflict revenge upon the Navy because it stopped his father's Zeppelin programme back in the 1950s...

Catching Blimp off guard for a second is enough for Batman to knock the Colonel out, and with him all of his plans fall just the same...

... and as the morning sun rises over the forest treetops, the shadow of the Batman is firmly cast over Colonel Blimp.

 
 

REVIEW & ANALYSIS

A story which started out in Batman #352 (published a fortnight ahead of Detective Comics #519), Colonel Blimp's crime spree in the sky involving anachronistic - nomen est omen - blimps rather than supersonic jets was, even by comic book standards, pretty far fetched. A Zeppelin pulling heavy duty seagoing vessels into the sky by means of some mysterious magnetic force? Yes, it sounds like a second-rate story device from some C list 1930s serial. But in actual fact, it was a cleverly crafted tongue-in-cheek nod to the Batman's 1930s roots.

 

Don Newton provides the stunningly dynamic pencils, and some panels just stand out as iconic portrayals of the Batman - the splash page sets the tone, and if Batman #352 may have one or two issues in claiming that status for its story, the artwork is classic Bronze Age beyond a doubt and gives it all a tremendously entertaining spin.

 
 
The seemingly (i.e. if you sum it up in two sentences) cheesy plot was provided by Gerry Conway, who had taken up writing Batman as of December 1980 in Detective Comics #497. As of July 1981 he was also in charge of the Darknight Detective's namesake title Batman (starting with issue #337), before leaving both titles in May 1983 (after Detective Comics #526 and Batman #359 respectively). And during all of that time as the principal Batman writer, he was a man with a plan.

But then Gerry Conway (*1952) always seemed to have had a plan. As an almost archetypal example of the new wave of comic book professionals who entered the business in the mid- to later 1960s as comic book fans, Conway had his first letter published at the age of 14 (in Fantastic Four #50, May 1966), his first story published when he was 16 ("Aaron Philips' Photo Finish" in DC's House of Secrets #81, September 1969), and began scripting Amazing Spider-Man when he was 19 (issue #111, August 1972) - succeeding none other than Stan Lee himself.

In addition to his run on Amazing Spider-Man from August 1972 up until October 1975 (which included the landmark death of Gwen Stacy in issue #121), Conway also scripted Marvel's second flagship title, the Fantastic Four, between April 1973 and November 1974 (issues #133-152). After some back and forth switching between Marvel and DC in 1975/76, Conway would go on to write exclusively for DC Comics for a lengthy period of time as of late 1976 - acutely aware of the differences between the two companies.

"Marvel was rock and roll and DC was Lawrence Welk [a 1950s American bandleader and tv impresario whose music came to be known as "champagne music"] and trying to get Lawrence Welk to do rock and roll (...) That's why it took DC Comics so long to catch up, because it had an entire mentality that had to be basically thrown out." (Gerry Conway, in Bumeder)

 

Gerry Conway (in 1984, above) and Paul Kupperberg (below)

  As for Batman, Conway had a very concise perception of how the Darknight Detective had come to rock and roll.

"It's not like there was some halcyon Golden Age of serious Batman stories before Denny [O'Neil] and Neal [Adams] came along. You'd have to really go all the way back to the first three or four stories to get anything remotely like a dark Batman. I give them an enormous amount of credit for conceptualizing that. In other words they did not go back to find something, they created something. They created an interpretation that had the feeling of what a dark Batman should be and it felt like it was an inevitability. But it really wasn't. A guy running around in a bat costume with pointy ears. Trunks and boots, I mean, you know… No reason to think that's going to be dark and spooky and existential. It's really not an inevitability." (Gerry Conway, in Bumeder)

And in 1982, with DC running an experiment by running a continuous plot in both Batman titles, Gerry Conway - like O'Neil and Adams before him - turned to the Batman's roots and dug deep into the Darknight Detective's past, unearthing his very first villains. First, there was Doctor Death - Batman's very first arch-villain from Detective Comics #29 (July 1939), reintroduced to the Batman Universe in Batman #345 (March 1982) after an absence of 43 years. Then came the vampiric Monk and Dala, first seen in Detective Comics #31 (September 1939) and reappearing again for the first time since in Batman #349 (July 1982).

As for Colonel Blimp, Conway handed Paul Kupperberg a plot which was clearly modelled on the Darknight Detective's third super-villain in chronological order, even though the captain of "the dirigible of doom" featured in Detective Comics #33 (November 1939) was one Professor Carl Kruger - but his loyal "Scarlet Horde" explains Conway's reinterpretation's rather garishly coloured outfit.

 
It was Conway's tip of the hat to the very early history of the Batman - and a way of including the "dark" roots of a character which he was writing and interpreting in a way which really wasn't like DC Comics at all. In many ways, Conway "marvelized" Batman on a conceptual storytelling level as "the stakes seemed higher, now that a perfect resolution wasn’t inevitable and adventures could have lasting consequences" (Baytor, 2015).

Conway built up subplots which served to drive storylines and characterization at the same time, resulting in a much more complex (and hence realistic) context in which the Batman was required to operate as city politics, corruption and organised crime made their influence felt. And members of the supporting cast are handed personal issues by Conway (again, a typical Marvel trait, of course) as Dick Grayson drops out of college and outgrows his role in the Dynamic Duo, James Gordon goes through an existential crisis after being sacked by Gotham's new (and corrupt) Mayor but pulls through with help from his daughter Barbara, and Selina Kyle tries hard to come to terms with her criminal past as Catwoman.

The literally colourful episode featuring Colonel Blimp seems somewhat removed from this Gotham City of shady dealings, double-crosses and personal strife, but it serves as a jigsaw puzzle piece in a dramatic era of the Batman's publication history, when - much like O'Neil and Adams - Conway, Kupperberg, Newton, Coland and Novick added a whole new spin to the Batman's crime fighting adventures.

 
RECOMMENDED READING - Whilst the story involving Colonel Blimp may not be everybody's cup of tea, the atmospheric artwork alone is worth reading this comic book.
 

COMMENTS FROM THE BATCAVE

 
 

"The conclusion of the Colonel Blimp story (...) provided much entertainment. (...) Watching Batman perform was pure joy (...) Blimp made himself a fine adversary and I would like to see him again one day" (Kent A. Phenis, Indianapolis IN)

"I have heard that Len Wein will soon be taking over the editorial control on the Batman magazines. I hope that he plans to keep the continuity and story crossover as the working model." (Tony Sprague, Morro Bay CA)

 

"TEC 519 continues Conway's outstanding Batman series (...) the criss-crossing plots and subplots in BATMAN and DETECTIVE have been deft, subtle, and intriguing - as one subplots ends, a second is in midstream and a third has already been started. Nice, nice work. I'd also like to commend Gene Colan and Don Newton for the remarkable work they continue to produce on the Darknight Detective." (Brian Nelson, Arlington VA)

(from the letters page of Detective Comics #524)

 
 

FACTS & FIGURES

The scene in which Blimp blows up one his Zeppelins over Washington DC makes a clear visual reference to the well-known images of the May 6th 1937 Hindenburg desaster, to which Batman also refers in a discussion with Robin.

Arriving at Lakehurst NY the Zeppelin was engaged in landing manoeuvres when it suddenly burst into flames and dropped to the ground in just 37 seconds, resulting in the loss of a total of 36 lives. Being the first flight of the 1937 transatlantic flights season the arrival was covered by press, radio and film crews on location, which accounts for the many and well known images from the desaster.

Thus essentially a means of air travel of a bygone era, dirigibles were most certainly an exotic mode of transportation which was rarely depicted when Conway and Kupperberg decided to bring back this old-time Batman villain.

 

 

However, blimps have become something of a regular item associated with Batman ever since Bruce Timm weaved them into the art deco style of his Batman The Animated Series in the early 90s where they were often shown as part of GPD surveillance - not the least in the intro where their spotlight beams catch two villains on the run from Batman.

A tribute to these opening scenes featured in Batman (vol 2) #25 (January 2014).

 
Most recently, blimps could be seen in Batman (vol 2) #41 (August 2015) - where Batman's very own dirigible serves as part of a slightly anachronistic high-tech set-up - and Batman (vol 2) #44 (November 2015) - where the Penguin is described as using airships (yet another synonym for dirigible) for his various smuggling runs.
 
The Colonel Blimp story was reprinted soon after its original publication, in 1983, by Ehapa for the German language market (Batman Taschenbuch #20, 1983) and Semic in Norway (Superserien #8).

 

 

 
 
BIBLIOGRAPHY

BAYTOR I. M. (2015) "Gerry Conway’s marvelized Batman", published online at Gotham Calling

BUMEDER Larry (----) "Gerry Conway interview", published online at wtv-zone

 

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